East Asia Workshop: Politics, Economy and Society

March 2, 2010
by campus
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March 9 Workshop

Workshop on East Asia:

Politics, Economy and Society Presents

“Ambiguous Punishment: From Opium Merchants to Outlaws in British Burma

Diana Kim

PhD Candidate, Department of Political Science,

University of Chicago

4:00-5:30pm, Tuesday

March 9, 2010

Pick Lounge

5828 South University Ave.

Workshop website: http://lucian.uchicago.edu/blogs/eastasia/

Student coordinator: Jean Lin (jeanlin@uchicago.edu)

Faculty sponsors: Dali Yang, Cheol-sung Lee, Dingxin Zhao

The workshop is sponsored by the Center for East Asian Studies and the Council on Advanced Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences. Persons with disabilities who believe they may need assistance, please contact the student coordinator in advance.

Abstract: Over the past century and a half in Burma, a
lucrative opium market has been abandoned as a legitimate
source of government revenue to become the target of harsh
penal sanctions. In effect, an excise commodity appears to
have metamorphosed into a criminal possession, a class of
opium merchants into a band of outlaws. This paper seeks to
understand this perplexing replacement of an imperative for
protection with legal punishment towards opium. How did this
regulatory transformation occur and with what consequences? My
main argument is that the British colonial encounter with
Burma — particularly in reference to its borderlands with
Southwestern China, Western French Laos, and Northern Siam —
during late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, marked a
pivotal event that rendered thinkable the categorization of
opium as a social vice, contributing to the expansion of the
criminal law and the making of the modern Burmese state.